So, that was interesting. I collected the big bag of held mail yesterday, and sorted it, and found the latest Freethinker with my column in it, and the latest Free Inquiry with my column in it. Late in the evening I flung myself down to read the Free Inquiry – and was brought up short on the contents page. “Oh? Eh? Wha? Really? Er…uh oh.” Because why? Because
A Guy Thing? Secularism, Feminism, and a Response to Ophelia Benson
Huh, I thought. Huh. But he already did respond. At some length. With considerable heat. With, in fact, quite a large helping of righteous indignation. With an air of “who is this woman to criticize something I said?” He really needed to say more?
Who knows, but he did say more, along with recycling what he’d already said. He said a lot more. He took up three pages (or two and a half, since there’s an ad on the last page) responding to my one sentence in a paragraph on sexist stereotypes. He said a lot.
The issue isn’t online yet, and I don’t know if Shermer’s piece will be online when it is, so I can’t link to it. Update: now it is online. The gist is – we’re making great progress in including women in atheism and skepticism. But – there is “a McCarthy-like witch hunt” to get rid of all sexism and racism, real or imagined. This “unfortunate trend has produced a backlash against itself by purging from its ranks the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris” –
Wait, what? Purging? Who has, what has? No it hasn’t. Many of us strongly disagree with Dawkins’s “Dear Muslima” but that isn’t purging him. Oddly enough, we don’t have the power to “purge” people. “This unfortunate trend” isn’t the KGB nor even the Stasi, and it can’t purge people.
There are lots of women at the top, he goes on, but even so “much ink and emotion are spilled over trivial slips of the tongue that allegedly reveal hidden biases and unconscious prejudices.”
Ok that’s for me – that was what that passage in my column was about.
…atheism hasn’t always been very welcoming to women. Maybe there’s an idea that men created God so men should do the uncreating.
Mostly, though, it’s just a matter of stereotypes, the boring stubborn wrong stereotypes and implicit associations that feminism has been battling since forever. The social psychologist Cordelia Fine sums them up in Delusions of Gender:
Measures of implicit associations reveal that men, more than women, are implicitly associated with science, math, career, hierarchy, and high authority. In contrast, women, more than men, are implicitly associated with the liberal arts, family and domesticity, egalitarianism, and low authority.
The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do non-theism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”
Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that a week ago on a video panel discussion on The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented the question: why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”
It’s all there – women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved – it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.
It’s incredibly discouraging, that kind of thing. I thought (naïvely) that stereotypes of women as stupid and passive and bashful had been exposed as, precisely, sexist stereotypes decades ago, at least among intellectual and political and progressive types. I thought everybody knew they were not just wrong but also retrograde. Would Shermer have said that if the question had been about race instead of gender? Would he have said “it’s more of a white thing”? It seems very unlikely.
So, yes, I spilled some ink over something he said that, in my view, revealed a sexist stereotype, of a kind that does damage. I think I’m allowed to do that. I don’t think that’s a particularly monstrous thing to do.
But Shermer thinks it’s comparable to Nazism. Will Orac rebuke him? I don’t think anyone will bet on that.
To date, I have stayed out of this witch hunt against our most prominent leaders, thinking that “this too shall pass.” Perhaps I should have said something earlier. As Martin Niemoller famously warned about the inactivity of German intellectuals during the rise of the Nazi party, “first they came for…” but “I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a…”
Yes, he wrote that.
He goes on to say that “self-proclaimed secular feminists attacked Richard Dawkins for a seemingly innocent response to an equally innocent admonishment to guys by Rebecca Watson…”
Self-proclaimed secular feminists? Attacked? Seemingly innocent? “Dear Muslima” was “seemingly innocent”? Not in my book. And if Rebecca’s admonishment was also seemingly innocent, why – oh never mind.
Then there’s Sam Harris and racial profiling, and a swipe at PZ. Then he says “the inquisition” (yes, he says that) has been turned on him, by me.
I have already responded to this charge against me elsewhere [with a footnote to the URL], so I will only briefly summarize it here.
Briefly?! Ya not so much. At great length. Most of this is the eSkeptic piece, a bit nastier in places (he accuses me of “redacting” what he said, when I simply quoted one thing he said, in its entirety).
He concludes with a warning about the way social movements devour their young, and then republishes what Harriet Hall said about me in her email to him, with lots of repetition of my name in case lazy readers had already forgotten it. Then he gropes for an explanation for why there aren’t more women atheists and skeptics doing tv shows right now –
…it is probably a legacy of the past socialization defining what women are expected to do.
No. That assumes women are deciding not to do tv shows. That’s not it. They are not being invited. It’s odd for a skeptic to overlook that. As I pointed out, Cara Santa Maria later told Shermer that she had asked only two women to do her show. That’s not a big enough sample to conclude that women are deciding not to do them.
But I’m a Nazi witch-hunting inquisitor, so what do I know.